I’m a liberal. I want to hear more conservative voices on campus.

Talking to likeminded students is comfortable, but reaching across the political aisle helps us grow

I’ve only been at Vanderbilt for two weeks. Coming from Long Island, the South gave me a kick in my Yankee behind. I wasn’t prepared for sweating 24/7 nor having my human rights respected by drivers. Equally as stark as these shifts was the political shakeup. While Long Island assuredly lacks ethnic diversity, it encompasses the whole political spectrum. New Deal populists, lapsed-hippy liberals, and Catholic conservatives coexist peacefully. Driving down my block, one might see a Planned Parenthood lawn poster juxtaposed with a Make America Great Again bumper sticker.

The conservative and liberal presences do not coexist here. The latter dominates the former. As cited in Campus Editor Sam Zern’s recent article on diversity of opinion, Vanderbilt has a poor record on accepting a range of political viewpoints. The Heterodox Academy, which tracks acceptance of political thought on college campuses, recorded that Vanderbilt is a particularly unwelcoming place for non-liberal students.

At Vanderbilt, we pride ourselves upon our inclusivity, regardless of race, religion, color or sexual orientation. However, we can’t boast about our inclusion of diverse political thought. Because universities do tend to lean liberal, we are responsible for encouraging everyone (assuming no one is being harmed) to express their opinions without fear of social consequence. And, intentionally or not, we have failed at this responsibility.

Republicans on campus are forced to spend more time distancing themselves from Trump than articulating their opinions. Conservatives mask their actual political leanings, describing themselves as “socially liberal, but economically conservative” so as to not be viewed as hateful and intolerant of difference. If you’re pro-life and hard on crime, you’re presumed to be a racist. If you want tax cuts and a more robust military, you’re written off as a backwards hillbilly. And so these opinions remain at the back of throats, huddled below the vocal chords, yearning to breathe free.

All of this being said, I’m a bleeding heart Berniecrat. While I have enjoyed the conversations I have with like-minded individuals, I have gained more from the conversations I’ve had with those across the political aisle.

Instead of allowing each side’s opinions to become sealed off into separate echo chambers, promoting open expression from each side will foster healthy, much-needed debate. The demonization of the political “other” begins to abate.

Soon, our generation will be at the forefront of national politics. Therefore, it is imperative that our universities inculcate good political etiquette that can be replicated in state courthouses and at corner demonstrations and on Capitol Hill. If that happens, it is possible that, when we take the reins, the political polarization that has shaken our democracy to its core will diminish. We must fix the mistakes of our past leaders.

So please–I want to hear about the benefits of tightening up on immigration. I want to see Reagan/Bush ‘84 tanks. I want to see you, Vandy conservatives. I won’t think you’re homophobic if you want to debate abortion policy. Show yourselves as you truly are; don’t hold back on us liberals.

Max Schulman is a first-year in the College of Arts and Science. He can be reached at maxwell.r.schulman@vanderbilt.edu.

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Max Schulman, Opinion Editor

Max Schulman (‘21) is the Opinion Editor of the Vanderbilt Hustler. He is majoring in Neuroscience and Political Science in the College of Arts and Science. In his spare time, Max enjoys prominently wearing Obama-themed apparel, listening to mid-2000’s rap battles, and complaining about how little free time he has.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent read. I hope that more of your generation will start to recognize the thoughts and ideas of others that are not necessarily aligned with their views. This goes for each side. It is only through discussion and civilized debates that we may all become more aware of issues from both sides of the argument. Unlike a traditional debate however, there shouldn’t be a declared winner/loser. The audience should be urged to listen to both sides of the argument and learn the reasons behind the opposing arguments.

  2. Max,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article. The Heterodox resource is one I was not aware of, but will now continue to look at. I think you hit the mark on a lot of points. The general trend of disregard for conservative opinions in higher education is actually hurting those who identify with the left viewpoint. Conservative students tend to have their beliefs challenged in higher education challenged so often that they tend to be much better defenders of their beliefs than liberal students, who have essentially been in a liberal echo chamber.

    There are a couple points I would like to mention, however.

    Firstly, you express that you wish to hear opinions from “across the aisle” and conservatives shouldn’t hold their tongues, but you may well be a minority in that regard. In Hood College, for example, the conservative group College Republicans created a informational display highlighting points and values of the modern conservative movement. The backlash was immediate and severe, with Hood administration debating sanctions against the group. So, Max, thank you (from all of those with opinions that don’t fit the higher education think tanks’ approved version) for your open-mindedness, but peer ridicule and anger is low on the level of repercussions for conservatives on campus.

    Secondly, identifying as a “social liberal” and “economic conservative” cannot be written off as a cop-out label for frightened conservatives. It is a legitimate identity of those who believe in conservative ideas such as fiscal conservatism and the Second Amendment while simultaneously believing in some liberal ideas such as the decriminalization of marijuana and abortion. As a self-professed “Berniecrat,” you do not fit in a traditional left-right political axis and it would be a growing experience for anybody to think of politics in more terms than “left” and “right”

    Thank you for your thoughts and acceptance.

    Sincerely,
    Christian

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